Books by Dorothy L. Sayers

Released: March 1, 2003

"Though the mystery is gossamer-thin, Paton Walsh (Thrones, Dominations, 1998, etc.) provides another Greatest Hits of Wimseydom, complete with family news, an allusive cipher, a dozen deathless village types, and, eventually, the return of Lord Peter to hearth, home, and homicide."
In a series of letters to the Spectator over the winter of 1940, Sayers presented members of Lord Peter Wimsey's family discussing such morale-building issues as rationing and leadership. Taking her cue (and a little of her prose) from these hints of how the peerless peer and his connections were spending the months of the phony war, Paton Walsh shows how, while her husband is off fighting the good fight somewhere on the continent, Lady Peter, née Harriet Vane, is so preoccupied down in Hertfordshire with the conduct of the war and her own depleted yet crowded household that she has no interest in writing mysteries. Even so, she's still keeping company with corpses. The latest is promiscuous land-girl Wendy Percival, who failed to emerge from an air-raid shelter during a drill because she was lying dead in the street above, dispatched by someone's bare hands. Harriet's preliminary questioning of the three young men Wicked Wendy kept on a string—bumpkin Jake Datchett, handyman Archie Lugg, and RAF officer John Birdlap—indicates no likely candidate for her killer. But who can the murderer be when practically the entire population of the village was huddled in the shelter beneath the Crown Inn and Archie's father, undertaker Fred Lugg, was watching the street from a tower above? Read full book review >
Released: April 17, 1998

Lord Peter Wimsey's creator turns her attention—and correspondence—to the Lord Himself. In this second volume of letters, Sayers switches roles from beloved detective novelist to an increasingly well-regarded if sometimes beleaguered Christian playwright. It's a testament to her strength as a writer and thinker that Sayers confines her new role —not [to] prophet, but only sort of painstaking explainer of official dogma.— These letters include lively, substantive arguments with religious leaders, politicians, collaborators, and detractors. The war years were productive ones for Sayers, who wrote five plays for the stage and others for radio, lectured, wrote articles, and published two books, all concerning Christianity. Sayers commendably turns her pen's power to the war itself, seizing the opportunity to connect religion with reality. On September 10, 1939, one week after Great Britain went to war with Germany, Sayers wrote to a Christian newsletter editor that the Church ought to "say something loud and definite" about what's happening in the world. She's at her finest when she corrects distortions of her work and responds to sincere inquiries, which in turn inspire thoughtful explication. With humility, intelligence, clarity, and an occasional barb, she eschews ignorance. Her task is to imaginatively explain Christian doctrine, which, she reminds her correspondents, isn't her creation: "I didn't think it was ‘my' theology exactly; I thought it was the Church's." The price of this isn't zealotry but monotony. With the exception of a scattered reference to her husband and some letters to her adolescent "unacknowledged" son, her letters focus almost exclusively on Christianity. Interestingly, the mystery surrounding her son gets solved, though not in her letters—Reynolds appends to this volume particulars about Sayers's son, thus filling in a gap in his biography Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (1993). Followers of Wimsey's sleuthing may not enjoy following Sayers's prolix letters on Christianity. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 27, 1998

Lord Peter Wimsey lives again, courtesy of Walsh's completion of a 70-page typescript Sayers abandoned in 1939. In a particularly happy accident for fans whose nostalgia has turned mystery's Golden Age into a historical retreat from the present, Wimsey's return from his honeymoon with mystery novelist Harriet Vane is given the most distinctive real-world political framework of all Sayers's novels: the death of King George V, which plunges England into mourning and into the round of Bertie Windsor's romances. As Wimsey and his bride feast on each other's wit and charm, and Bertie grazes more indiscriminately, news comes from Hampton that noted beauty Rosamund Harwell has been strangled at the cottage her besotted husband never had time to have decorated for her. When theatrical angel Laurence Harwell produces an alibi for his wife's murder, Wimsey, still shaken by his first look at the corpse of a personal acquaintance, makes the rounds of Rosamund's disgraced father, recently released from prison after serving time for fraud; of Streaker and Basher, the lowlife prison mates who were blackmailing him; and of the friends of vanished actress Gloria Tallant, who has a surprisingly close connection to Rosamund. Meanwhile, back in town, Harriet is vanquishing her husband's snobbish sister-in-law with a queenly ease worthy of Richardson's Pamela. The murder plot is ordinary, even creaky in its deceptions, but delighted fans—ravenous for their first glimpse in over 60 years of Wimsey's foppish relations, Harriet's professional friends, Bunter, Chief Inspector Parker, and the rest—will be more than compensated by seeing all the old crowd present and faithfully evoked by Walsh (The Serpentine Cave, 1997, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1996

Best known as the creator of the enduringly popular sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers gives us glimpses of her life in this selection of vivid and often entertaining correspondence. This collection, which comprises only a fraction of the letters Sayers left, follows the author from her youth—she is only five when she writes the first, remarkably articulate, letter here—through the period of her fame as a mystery writer who is just beginning the religious works of her later years. Throughout, Sayers presents herself as an intriguing combination of reticence ("I never can write about my feelings") and brashness ("I really am a vulgar child"). Intelligent and a keen observer of her surroundings, she demonstrates the ability to sketch character and setting long before she pens her first novel. She does not hesitate to turn her lively sense of humor on herself, as when she notes that her unsuccessful verse translation of the Song of Roland sounds well enough "chanted aloud in the bath-room." Sayers taps all of these abilities to turn out controlled and for the most part upbeat letters, even when she is riding out her infatuation with writer John Cournos, struggling to establish her financial independence, making living arrangements for the illegitimate son she bore and "adopted" but never acknowledged, and coping with a husband who is given to "odd fits of temper." Fans of Sayers's mystery writing will particularly relish some of the later entries that show the author at work: for example, those to Dr. Eusatce Barton sorting out the details of their collaborative novel, The Documents in the Case, and those touching on the work it takes to get the play Busman's Honeymoon to the stage. Absorbing reading on its own, and a worthy companion to Reynolds's biographical Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (1993.) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 5, 1971

A fond recapitulation of the contribution of Dorothy Sayers by James Sandoe who edited this collection running to 430 pages and ending with a parody Codetta by E. C. Bentley. And a serious piece by Carolyn Heilbrun from The American Scholar attesting to the "enduring" grace of Lord Peter. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 19, 1949

Dorothy Sayers is widely and favorably known in this country as well as in England as the author of deservedly popular detective novels. In this book she appears as a deeply spiritual interpreter of the life of Christ and as a skilled craftsman in the presentation of that life in a dramatic form designed especially for radio broadcasting. This is a brilliant piece of work in its interpretation of the life of Christ and in the construction of what she calls "a play-cycle" of twelve dramatic episodes. In her introduction, the author explains the reasons for the presentation and for the methods used, and preceding each episode she gives a penetrating analysis of each character that is designed presumably for the guidance of those who would present it. In view of the great popularity of Fulton Oursler's The Greatest Story Ever Told both on the radio and in its book form, one might expect a most favorable reception for this presentation, except for the fact that it is very similar. Miss Sayer's production, however, is adaptable for presentation in Church drama groups and for these it should be most valuable, while for the general public reading it should have a wide appeal. Read full book review >
CREED OR CHAOS? by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: May 26, 1949

With an intellectual brilliance which characterizes all that Dorothy Sayers has written, whether in the religious field or that of the mystery, this is a trenchant consideration of dogma, and its value as the basic structure of the Christian faith. "If the 'average man' is going to be interested in Christ at all, it is the dogma that will provide that interest. The trouble is that in nine cases out of ten, he has never been offered the dogma. What he has been offered is a set of technical theological terms which nobody has taken the trouble to translate in the language relevant to ordinary life." This "trouble" author Sayers takes, and, in seven chapters — miscellaneous in subject —, she conveys the drama of dogma...A highly individualistic, stimulating exposition with much spiritual significance as well. Read full book review >
BEGIN HERE by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: May 1, 1941

It seems to me it is almost too bad this book is being published, at this time and in this form. It was written in 1939, during the period of the so-called "phoney war" and its tempo and spirit reflect that period. Footnotes and addenda cannot alter that atmosphere, nor do the charges to waiting England ring true today. The result is a somewhat confused statement of faith, through which are interjected suggestions for activity projects, preparation for peace, re-integration of society. However, Dorothy Sayers' name, in this connection, may arouse some curiosity as to what she has to contribute. Read full book review >
THE MIND OF THE MAKER by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: Jan. 1, 1941

Abstruse, often paradoxical, but remarkable in many ways is this volume which analyses the metaphor of God as a Creator, using as concrete examples men and women in the field of creative activity, ranging from Shakespeare to Joyce. The market for this book is mixed, partly theological, partly literary. It is not however for the average reader who will find it difficult. With forthright penetration and acumen she points up the analogy between the divine and the human creator. A book for thoughtful readers and students. Read full book review >
THE DEVIL TO PAY by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: Sept. 21, 1939

Miss Sayers' second poetic drama written for and presented at the Festival at Canterbury Cathedral. Here is the story of Faustus retold in prose-poetry, and she has attempted to give a "human interpretation to a supernatural legend." Faustus is pictured as an impulsive, impatient reformer, who bartered his soul to the devil in an attempt to escape the failures of the world he lived in. Miss Sayers amazes one by her versatility. Her interpretation of the legend, based on profound erudition,is forceful. The poetry is modern without modernisms — lucid — occasionally very beautiful. For the drama shelf. Read full book review >
THE ZEAL OF THY HOUSE by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: Sept. 30, 1937

A play first presented at the festival at Canterbury Cathedral and well received. Another facet of an interesting personality is shown in this quite extraordinary religious play, based on the rebuilding of the choir of the cathedral after the fire in 1174. The scene of the choice of the French architect, the work of the architect and his contacts with his angels, his eventual withdrawal because they told him his pride was getting between him and the cathedral — a fine piece of work. One cannot see a wide market, however. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 18, 1937

Sure fire — and don't miss the opportunity of selling Dorothy Sayers as straight fiction rather than simply as mystery. Personally, we liked it better than Gaudy Night, which is high praise. Subtitled "A Love Story With Detective Interruptions", this proves to be the story of Harriot and Poter's marriage, their trip to the newly bought country place which they find wholly unprepared. Next day reveals; the reason — and peter is off in full cry to solve the mystery. The attendant investigation underlines the adjustments that both Peter and Harriet have to make, and the marriage, in spite of interruptions — comic and tragic — gets a solid foundation for the future. Excellent slouthing — good entertainment — a book for intelligent readers. Read full book review >
GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: Feb. 20, 1936

We hereby promote Dorothy Sayers from the straight mystery classification, and put her into the category of novel-cum-detection-cum-psychology. First rate yarn on the erudite and discursive side, a good picture of academic life in England, and again a Peter Wimsy story, with a bit of romance accruing when he frees Harriet Vane of a murder charge, helps reinstate her in her college in Oxford, and helps her trace the culprit who is intimidating the college with obscene notes. Chance for a double sale — on fiction and on mystery tables. Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1935

A collection of 62 stories projected on the thesis that a mystery writer today has a new set of tools for killing and a new set of tools for investigation. English settings — all the stories are way above the average. Good buy. Read full book review >
THE NINE TAILORS by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: March 22, 1934

Missing emeralds, unexpected corpses, a cryptogran, erudition, a touch of the macabre, an old church with ringing bells, and Peter Wimsy performing feats of deduction and exercising his freakish humor. A fine bit of writing, a good story, and at the same time a rattling good mystery. Dorothy Sayers at her best. Read full book review >
HANGMAN'S HOLIDAY by Dorothy L. Sayers
Released: Sept. 21, 1933

Detection at its neatest in a group of short stories, in which the familiar figure of Peter Wimsey, and a newcomer, Montague Egg, play their parts. Read full book review >

A sparkling work of literary interpretation by a gifted and versatile author. In sheer brilliance of thought and expression and in range of selection of material few writers can excel Dorothy Sayers. Whether turning to mysteries, devotional literature, to mysticism, drama or history. Miss Sayers produces interesting and engaging results. The material here presented was originally delivered as a series of lectures at Cambridge. She makes Dante come alive for the modern reader. As is too often true of the classics, Dante is more often quoted than read. Dr. Sayers would rescue Dante from the clutches of scholars, in firm conviction that he wrote for the common man and woman. She would tear away the veil of mystery with which Dante has been surrounded by frankly stating that the Pivine Comedy is an allegory to be interpreted on four levels:- literary, political, moral and mystical and that the allegory is concerned chiefly with this life and not exclusively with life after death. She expands a four-fold interpretation of the Comedy, its paradoxes and its comedy..... Too bad the typography is not better. Read full book review >